Dec 23, 2021

Advice on Advice

Listen to everyone's advice. Take almost none of it.

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Everyone has ideas about what things you should do and how you should do them - and they are all wrong.

They are all wrong? But a lot of advice is good advice, right?

Yes, and yes. It’s a paradox.

All advice is wrong because for every valuable piece of advice there are counterexamples which show that it’s not always true.

If there is an exception to a rule, then it is not a rule. Call it a “rule of thumb” or a “truism” or whatever, but it’s not a rule. There are no rules.

A lot of advice is good, obviously. But that same advice which is good for some people, may be terrible for other people.

The determination is nuanced based on who’s receiving the advice.

It’s up to the person on the receiving end of the advice, to calculate whether or not to take the advice, or to throw it away.

It’s your decision whether or not advice is good for you or not for you.

In a world where every person is being blasted with information about what they ought to do or not do, it’s incredibly difficult to separate the signal from the noise.

I’m somebody who has ignored a lot of the advice I have ever received. I’ve committed to countless big decisions in my life, which defied the advice I was getting at the time.

My decisions have not always worked out for me. But more often than not, following my own internal algorithm for decision making has led to net positive results relative to my intended outcome.

I am now able to confidently throw advice away, even when it comes from “great” sources. This is an ability I have developed over time, which I believe has served me well in my life.

My purpose for writing this, is to help empower people to throw advice away when it doesn’t serve them.

OK, so for a given piece of advice, how do you make that decision? Here’s my process for deducing which advice to take vs which to throw out:

1. Listen to everybody’s advice

First of all, I’m a big believer in gathering as much input as possible and always keeping an open mind.

This means listening to people even if you think their input will be worthless. And giving ideas a chance, even when you think they’re wrong.

Seek out the opinions and advice of your favorite thought leaders. Gather the opinions of people who’s intellect you admire/respect. But also talk with coworkers, friends, siblings, etc…

The more input, the better. Even if you don’t respect everybody you listen to, you’ll be in a stronger position to make the best decision after you have collected a diverse range of opinions.

2. Ask yourself if the person giving you this advice has an agenda or incentive

This is the first filter. Pretty straightforward. Every piece of advice you receive needs to pass through this filter. If the source of advice has an agenda, this should be taken into account.

I’m a very cynical person, so in my case I usually throw the advice out when there’s an agenda or incentive for the person to give me that advice.

You might still make a conscious decision to take the advice. That’s your prerogative. But you should potentially discount the value of the advice when there’s an agenda.

3. Ask yourself if the advisor shares your *exact* values.

I believe that another person should not influence my decisions around how to live the one precious life I have, if that person does not share the same world view as I do.

How can a person effectively advise me to become more successful if our definitions for success are radically different?

When a person gives me advice, I first ask myself if I want to become that person.

  • Do they possess the qualities and habits that I am seeking to have?

  • Do they have the level of health and fitness that I am seeking to have?

  • Do they have the quality of relationships in their life that I am seeking to have?

  • Do they contribute the same amount of time, energy and passion to their life’s work and charities as I seek to?

  • Do they travel, have fun, laugh and live life to the fullest as much as I seek to?

These are just 5 examples of high level questions I might ask myself about any given advisor.

If a person metaphorically “ticks many boxes” which I am striving to “tick” in my life, then their advice may weigh heavily on my decision(s).

But AFAIK, there is nobody alive today who is exactly where I wish to be in my future.

I wish only to be myself, and each day I strive to become the best possible version of myself.

Unless a person giving you advice understands exactly what you want (and they themselves understand exactly how to get it) - then they can’t possibly know better than you do, what’s best for you at a given intersection in your life.

Only you can. It’s your life. It’s your decision.

4. Worship no one.

The myth is always greater than the man.

Read that again.

Humans gossip. Men put other men up on pedestals when they tell stories about them, then the story is retold over and over and over. Before you know it, you have a myth - a story about a person who doesn’t exist, totally disconnected from reality.

In general, people get way too much credit for having financial success or social status. Just because people have one or both of these two things, does not mean you should take their advice.

People also get way too much credit for being an extreme overachiever in a single category. A person who is skilled in one area, somehow gets credited as an expert on all topics.

Before you take someone’s advice, you must do your best to understand the person. Look at the person’s whole life, not just the few things you admire them for.

Often a person is an overachiever in one area of life, at the expense of another area of their life. It’s helpful to understand that people might be flawed, lacking or underperforming in ways which you do not want to emulate.

If you follow someone’s advice, you should expect that your outcomes may trend toward theirs - both the good, and the bad. If you don’t want their life, if you want something different - then following their advice may be a trap.

The right answer for you may actually be to smile and thank them, then throw away their advice and let your intuition guide you instead.

This is harder to do when the myth is strong. Throwing away the advice of “legendary” people is super hard and requires a lot of confidence.

But in some cases, it might be the right decision for you and your life.

5. Trust your intuition

Knowing how to assess advice, and which advice to take vs which to throw away is a powerful skill.

If your intuition is misguided, it can lead to suffering. I’ve certainly made my fair share of poor decisions on my journey.

But in making those decisions, I knew the pain of a wrong turn would not break me. I knew I’d learn from my decision, and I knew that I’d be OK no matter what.

Maybe you can’t relate one single bit to my innate self belief. Maybe this post is the advice you should throw out, and conventional wisdom is right for you at whatever figurative junction you’re at in life.

I can’t tell you.

But I can tell you that when you follow your intuition instead of following the advice you’re given, you’re guaranteed to grow.

Best case, you’ll forge your own path to your own definition of success and become more confident in your own intuition along the way.

Worst case, you’ll have to embrace the consequences of your poor decision, you’ll learn about your own tolerance for risk and your intuition will be sharpened for the next time you’re at a crossroads.

Let your intuition guide you. Give yourself permission to decide for yourself. Listen to everyone’s advice.

And take almost none of it.